I’ll be honest here… I was slightly freaked out when I first encountered white asparagus. I was familiar with its green brother; a healthy-looking sprightly lad, but when I met his paler sibling, I was shocked. How could this flacid, anaemic stick, be asparagus? It didn’t help that I had met the pre-cooked version from a jar, which was especially damp and miserable looking. That first encounter was in Germany in 2005, and it put me off so much that I didn’t attempt to cook it until last week.
The other thing that had put me off was the pricetag! Asparagus in both colours is expensive. This is partly due to the fact that it has a fairly short season, but also because it is so labour intensive to grow. White asparagus is only white because farmers cover the shoots with soil as they grow, preventing photosynthesis. This effort is rewarded though, as white asparagus is a delicacy in continental Europe. So much so that it is known as ‘white gold’, ‘the royal vegetable’ or ‘edible ivory’.
It is impossible to ignore the ‘spargel’ season here in Switzerland. From late April until the 24th June (the official end of the season), it is sold everywhere. Restaurants also introduce ‘Spragelkarten’, or ‘Asparagus menus’ in the spring and have massive placards outside advertising it. It is not uncommon to pay €30 for a massive plate of asparagus with hollandaise sauce.
So, in the past few years I have embraced green asparagus but pretended that white asparagus didn’t exist, until my Belgian friend, Anne-Sofie, introduced me to the following recipe. This is a great showcase for the white spears. It is filling and creamy, while still maintaining fresh flavours. We cooked just six spears and ate it as a starter for two, but you could easily increase the quantities and have it for dinner. It’s a great one for anyone who’s avoiding carbs or gluten, but wants a full-up feeling.
Serves 2 as a starter
- 6 spears of white asparagus
- 2 tbsp. parsley
- 2 free-range hard-boiled eggs
- 1 tbsp. melted butter
- salt and pepper
- a pinch of nutmeg
- Peel the hard-boiled eggs
- Peel the asparagus with a potato peeler from under the tip to the end and remove the hard end (about an inch)
- Rinse the asparagus
- Boil the asparagus in lightly salted water for 20 – 30 minutes (until soft)
- Remove from the water. Drain
- Arrange asparagus on a serving dish
- Surround with the chopped eggs
- Pour over the warm, melted butter
- Garnish with chopped parsley
- Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg